Enriching A Dogs Life

Enrichment is defined as “The action of improving or enhancing the quality or value of something” in the Oxford Dictionary. In animal terms this is improving or enhancing their quality of life. But how can we do this?

Traditional pet dog care rules were 1. Feed the dog 2. Walk the dog 3. Play with the dog 4. Socialise the dog and that was it. It was as simple as baking a cake. However now, we know so much more about dogs, their behaviour and also more importantly the science to back it up. Although this is fantastic for pet professionals; that their is now more evidence to back up our theories, it causes much confusion between owners, as the advice online is unlimited.

Some sites say dogs (depending on the breed) need plenty of exercise a day, and that puppies need to be socialised heavily as a puppy, otherwise known as flooding. This means we expose the puppy to everything and anything within the period between 8 weeks and 12 weeks. Some professionals believe that we can’t socialise at all until vaccinations have been completed to reduce the risk of contracting diseases. Others believe socialisation is more important and push this on owners. Some professionals believe that puppy and adult dog training classes are the one and only option available but fail to give the advice on what classes are appropriate. Anyway, I digress…… but you get the idea, so many opinions, so many options, and so many decisions to be made.

Well my opinion and theory is that everything should be provided in moderation. Between the age of 8-12 weeks puppies develop rapidly and go through a critical socialisation period. Unfortunately, unless the breeder has vaccinated the pups in their care, you will need to get your puppy vaccinated, the first of which happens when you pick them up at 8 weeks, then the second at around 10-12 weeks depending on your vet and what vaccines they use.  From my experience working in the vets, I have seen puppies with Parvovirus, some of which have recovered and some of which sadly haven’t, but this is a deadly disease and can have deadly consequences for your puppy or dog so please get them vaccinated! However this does not mean we can not socialise them during this period. At 8 weeks old I took Harley out twice a day, carrying him to the shops, to car boots, and to family members houses where I knew the other dogs were safe and vaccinated for him to play with and meet. As long as you do not let your pups down in an uncontrolled environment, or near public water ways (to prevent another disease called Leptospirosis) we can still get that early socialisation in.

Exercise is a huge part of your dogs life, not just to keep them fit and healthy and to keep boredom behaviours at bay, but to allow them to express normal behaviours, such as sniffing, barking, running, and playing. Although I could not walk Harley far to begin with because of his growing bones, I regularly took him to the shops with me, or to a field near by where he could get in lots of sniffs and information about the big world around him, and build his confidence along the way. I had to decide with my lifestyle as a teacher how I could ensure Harley got the physical exercise he needed. A one hour walk am and pm was just too much for our lifestyle, however a 20-30 minute run would tire him out, keep him fit and healthy, and prevent those boredom behaviours from appearing. The other problem I had was that due to a bad back I can’t run, so being a trainer, I trained him to fetch and bring back a ball, this is now his favourite game in the week integrated into his walks and this is the result………

At weekends, we make sure to change it up a bit, taking him in the car for big walks in the peak district and making regular camping trips to Wales which he loves.

                   

As well as walking, running and loving life outside of the home, sometimes Harley is still showing he has energy, because chasing a ball isn’t exactly thinking work, he may be physically exhausted but his 2 1/2 year old cheeky brain still has a way to go before he can switch off. German Shepherds are highly intelligent, so I integrate many forms of enrichment throughout the day. He gets an early morning run on the field with his ball, following this he gets time-out to cool down, I then might continue with some training, this morning it was door work, he is currently learning to shut doors as he is very good at barging them open and letting the heat out! See his progress on Door training.

After a great nap while I either go to work or sit and work in my office, he starts to stir, we may do some more training, only 5 minutes, or I may give him part of his daily food ration in a more exciting food enrichment puzzle game, such as a KONG, KONG wobbler or snuffle mat which he loves. Why do we insist on giving their food in bowls? If we get them working for their food, they are using their brains more and expanding their thinking capacity. While he is invested in this, it’s back to work for me, once he has completed the game (Food puzzle) he usually goes and has another nap as it’s tiring work! Once I get home, I will take Harley on another run over the field, or I will take him on a training walk, we are working on loose lead walking at the minute so I often walk my estate, keeping him engaged with me as we go and practising some of his cues. He gets tasty food as his rewards although his bonus is his ball! He loved finding his ball in the snow!

 

As you can see from our routine, I fit all walks, training and enrichment provision around my work schedule, I make time for him, ensuring his life is as fulfilled as ours. I can’t imagine leaving him inside day in, day out, he would destroy my house, continuously chase the cats, and ruin my life.

How have you felt after a few sick days where bed rest has been mandatory, by the end of it probably irritable, frustrated and itching to get out. With guidance, love, understanding, time and patience Harley is becoming a calmer, well behaved adult dog. It has been hard work but the results are fantastic. So remember, it isn’t just about walking them with a coffee or phone in your hand, its about interacting with them, enjoying their company and working with them to help guide and mould them into a confident mature dog.